Cyberbullying, internet trolls and their psychopathic profile

cyberbullying

The violence among teenagers is extremely widespread in almost every culture, including those from high-developed countries. And, along with the digitization of human communication with the help of the internet and social networks, the adolescent aggressiveness has acquired a new dimension. The bullying and the violence have been transferred into the virtual space and today the experts talk about the phenomenon of the so-called “cyberbullying”.

The incidence of cyberbullying’s cases has been steadily rising over the past few years [Jones et al., 2013]. Such tactics as exclusion, gossiping, humiliation and intimidation are being used. Some statistics show that 43% of teenagers of about 13-17 years old have been the victims of cyberbullying [1]. Other data, such as the one offered by Bitdefender (international manufactor of antivirus systems) in 2011, show that 89% (!) of parents incriminate the cases of cyberbullying against their children. The study covered 1740 parents from five countries. 54% of bullying’s victims have been gravely affected, causing them to have states of anger, sadness, apathy [2].

Why this happened? What is wrong with online communication? In fact, a sadistic, Machiavellian and destructive behavior is specific for some online commentators. The Canadian and American researchers have found out that many people who use to leave evil comments on the internet suffer from narcissism, sadistic tendencies or psychopathy. They receive pleasure from the act of causing suffering to the others; they have an appetite for cruelty [Buckels et al., 2013, 2014]. Some of these people complete armies of the so-called “internet trolls” – paid or fanatic instigators [3].

There are already “internet trolls” which confesed that their aggressiveness is caused by a “over-abundance of juvenile sociopathic impulses”; the “trolling” is also, to a certain extent, a consequence of anxiety and frustration [4]. And the fact that the aggressors can stay anonymous adds a plus to their fierceness; the messages can be very violent, denigrating and threatening.

One study showed that the commentators, when not anonymous, leave “uncivilized” messages only 29% of the time; however, when being anonymous, the rate of “uncivilized” messaged surpasses 53% [Santana, 2014]. Psychologists claim that we are facing an online disinhibiting effect, when the commentators, thanks to their anonymity, realize that they won’t bear the consequences of a hostile and offensive behavior and take advantage of their situation to freely manifest their will. Overall, due to the high percentage of aggressive commentators, the quality of online discussions drops dramatically and an oppressive psychological atmosphere, full of hatred and mutual misunderstanding, is created [5] [Suler, 2004].

One speaks today of some kind of phobia of online bullying, which includes more and more youngsters [6]. The virtual aggressors can cause serious damage to more sensible persons, inducing states of anger, fear, distrust, depression and suicidal thoughts to them [7]. There have been recorded tens of suicide cases caused by cyberbullying and many site administrators are obliged to use means of censorship of messages and comments [8].

In august 2014, the case of Robin Williams’s daughter drew the attention of the press. After he had killed himself due to personal problems and depression, his 25 years old daughter, named Zelda, was the victim of bullying on Twitter, being therefore forced to renounce this social network. The Twitter’s staff, at their turn, decided to remove the more aggressive commentators from the network and to adopt a less tolerant policy towards personal attacks [9].

Along with the increasing of the number of people that are going to populate the virtual space (many of them still immature) and along with the accumulation of different frustrations on the social level, the phenomenon of cyberbullying will be more widespread and will have a greater impact. And the anonymity will allow the extremely aggressive individuals, those who have a sadistic and psychopathic profile, to unleash themselves almost without any boundaries.

© Dorian Furtună, ethologist

Sources:

Photo: Anti-cyber bullying fix – meet the troll / from Flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/fixersuk/11207960833

1. Online Bullying // Internet Safety 101 / http://www.internetsafety101.org/cyberbullying.htm
2. Online Bullying Affects 89% of Children, Survey Shows. Harassment, Humiliation Sparks Apathy, Anger in 54 Percent of Children // Marketwire. Oct 6, 2011 / http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/online-bullying-affects-89-of-children-survey-shows-1569858.htm
3. Troll // http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_%28Internet%29#Psychological_characteristics_of_trolls
4. Confessions of a former internet troll // by Emmett Rensin. Vox.com. September 29, 2014 / http://www.vox.com/2014/9/29/6840773/confessions-of-a-former-internet-troll
5. Anonymous Commenters Are Ruining Everything. Here’s How. Anonymous commenters might inadvertently destroy online spaces for true dissent // by Jennifer Golbeck. Psychology Today. September 27, 2014 / http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-online-secrets/201409/anonymous-commenters-are-ruining-everything-heres-how?tr=HdrQuote
6. Cyberbullying Creates Fear in Students // by Rick Nauert. PsychCentral. July 2, 2014 / http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/07/02/cyberbullying-creates-fear-in-students/71990.html
7. Pot schimba convingeri şi chiar îndemna spre violenţe sau suicid! Prejudiciile reale aduse de trolii virtuali (VIDEO) // PUBLIKA.MD. 11-06-2014 / http://www.publika.md/pot-schimba-convingeri-si-chiar-indemna-spre-violente-sau-suicid-prejudiciile-reale-aduse-de-trolii-virtuali-video_1965281.html
8. Social media users won’t fight cyberbullying until they imagine what it’s like to be bullied // by Tom van Laer. The Conversation. 7 July 2014 / http://theconversation.com/social-media-users-wont-fight-cyberbullying-until-they-imagine-what-its-like-to-be-bullied-28873
9. Twitter Takes Action Over Zelda Williams Harassment // by Taryn Ryder. Yahoo! Celebrity. August 14, 2014 /https://celebrity.yahoo.com/blogs/celeb-news/twitter-takes-action-over-zelda-williams-harassment-205815398.html

• Buckels E.E., Jones D.N., Paulhus D.L. Behavioral confirmation of everyday sadism // Psychological Science. September 10, 2013. doi: 10.1177/0956797613490749
• Buckels E.E., Trapnell P.D., Paulhus D.L. Trolls just want to have fun // Personality and Individual Differences. Vol. 67. 2014. P. 97-102.
• Santana A.D. Virtuous or Vitriolic: The effect of anonymity on civility in online newspaper reader comment boards // Journalism Practice. Vol. 8.1. 2014. P. 18-33.
• Suler J. The online disinhibition effect // Cyberpsychology & behavior. Vol. 7.3. 2004. P. 321-326.

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